March 31, 2015

In Order of Disappearance (2014)

In Order of Disappearance (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Hans Petter Molland
Country: Norway / Sweden

Movie Review: Stellan Starsgard stars in “In Order of Disappearance”, an amusing Norwegian gangster tale, written by Kip Fupz Aakeson and directed by Hans Petter Moland. This is the fourth successful collaboration between the director and the actor (“Zero Kelvin”, “Aberdeen”, “A Somewhat Gentle Man” – this last one also written by Aakeson), but only this time it’s Pal Sverre Hagen, as the eccentrically neat Mafia boss, who becomes one of the best motives to watch this flick. Set in Norway, the film opens with the exemplary Nils (Starsgard), a respected Dane who owns a company that provides snow removal services, proudly preparing himself to be awarded the Norwegian ‘Citizen of the Year’ prize. In the same breath, his son Ingvar, employee in a small airfield, is mistakenly kidnapped and forced into a van by two thugs, and then killed with an induced overdose. Unconvinced that his son was a drug addict, the modest Nils leaves the gentleness behind and becomes a merciless hitman, when he finds the gang responsible for his pain. One by one, he starts to eliminate the members of the gang as he tracks them down, but the main goal is to reach the inaccessible mad header, Greven (Hagen), a ruthless man whose only torment is the mother of his bullied son. Soon, Nils realizes that the best to get to him might be through the latter. His successive executions also trigger a gangster war between the local mob and the Serbs with whom they had an agreement to share the airfield for illicit businesses. Death is the word of order here; you will find so many that will be hard to count them all. Sometimes the film seems to get out of track, but the sarcastic humor (have you heard about Norwegian prisons?) and Greven’s immaculate figure, keep holding out the enjoyable levels.

March 30, 2015

White God (2014)

White God (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Kornel Mundruczo
Country: Hungary / others

Movie Review: After a spectacular opening scene where filmmaker Kornel Mundruczo shoots hundreds of dogs frantically running throughout the streets of Budapest, I immediately thought: maybe I didn’t read appropriately the film's title - was it 'White Dog' or ‘White God’? Actually, I was expecting something different here; according to its title, probably something more austere and masterful, but surprisingly the film stands in the middle of an affecting family adventure and a slightly gory thriller. A dangerous position since it may be too light to please horror-thriller fans and too violent to be watched with family, especially if you have little kids. The story has two protagonists: the 13-year-old trumpet player, Lily, and her cute mixed-breed dog, Hagen. When Lily’s mother leaves the city for a few days in the company of her new boyfriend, she is forced to stay with her picky father, Daniel. Lily takes the inseparable Hagen with her, but Daniel dumps the poor dog into the wild streets. While the sad Lily steps into risky situations and starts misbehaving as she looks around for her best friend, Hagen tries to avoid the dog-catchers of the municipal kennel, but eventually falls in the hands of rascals, being subjected to maltreatment and then turned into a fighter, for their own profit. As a dog lover, knowing that there are people out there inflicting this kind of treatment to innocent animals, gives me the creeps and really pisses me off. These moments were the ones touching me more since the rest relies on a farfetched canine feast of rambunctious chases, tenacious attacks, and emotive incidents. Production and direction are splendid, yet the script is not tight enough (no bad guy escapes to the dogs’ fury, not even Daniel’s snitch neighbor). In the end, the positive factors ended up obfuscating the negative ones.

March 28, 2015

Life of Riley (2014)

Life of Riley (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Alain Resnais
Country: France

Movie Review: Iconic French filmmaker, Alain Resnais, went more and more theatrically during the last phase of his prolific career (six decades), terminated a year ago with his death at the age of 91. The creator of timeless classics such as “Hiroshima Mon Amour”, “Last Year at Marienbad”, “My American Uncle” and “Providence”, was considered a conceptual visionary whose narratives evinced a bold distinctiveness associated with a strong socio-political content. His latest comedy-drama, “Life of Riley”, reunites seven characters, more or less intimate to the ‘invisible’ George Riley. All of them are going to interact over several episodes composed of stage-settings and separated by drawings, which work as substitutes for the establishing shots. This was the third play from Alan Ayckbourn to be adapted by Resnais - previous two were “Smoking/No Smoking” and “Private Fears in Public Places”, both considerably more successful. Even if somewhat tepid at times and struggling to extract the best from the cast, “Life of Riley” was superior to “You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet” from three years ago. The plot revolves around three couples (plus the daughter of one of them) whose relationships are jeopardized because of Riley, a mutual friend with only six months to live. While rehearsing for a play, the men are consumed by jealousy and feel abandoned while the women are battling one another to become Riley’s choice for a trip to Tenerife. The domestic quarrels flow in light tones and the J.M. Besset’s dialogues are pretty French. Hippolyte Girardot and Sabine Azéma’s performances stood out, categorically defining the quirkiest couple: Colin, the clock-watcher, and his agitated wife Kathryn. Each character’s close-up alludes to comics by using a gridded-pattern on the background. Not grandiose, but an honorable farewell for Mr. Resnais.

March 27, 2015

The Fool (2014)

The Fool (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Yuriy Bykov
Country: Russia

Movie Review: The multiple awarded “The Fool”, from emergent director Yuriy Bykov, is a pulsing drama that takes a bitter look in contemporary Russia and its socio-political problems. The hero here, in the true sense of the word, is Dima Nikitin (Artyom Bistrov), a modest, yet smart plumber who doesn’t hide his will to go further in his career. He’s studying hard to be a civil engineer, even knowing it’s going to be strictly necessary to bribe someone in the governmental department to take a position of that kind. Family life - with his wife and little son - is far from being perfect, since they still live with his parents, confined to an old house that doesn’t reunite the best conditions. His untouchable honesty, a virtue he gained from his hopeless father, will have a price after a call to inspect a burst pipe in District A, the most problematic neighborhood in town. A crack that goes from the first to the ninth floor of the decrepit building clearly indicates that it might fall in the next hours. Promptly, Dima reports the fact to the mayor, Nina Galaganova (Natalya Surkova was brilliant), who was in a degrading party, celebrating her birthday with her corrupt staff. With 820 people in danger, she shows concern about the problem and determination in solving it, but will the ‘system’ allow her to do the right thing? “The Fool” counts with exceptional performances, exhibiting enough intrigue, and uncovering the moral filth hidden under the carpet of bureaucracy and unreasonable solutions. It’s also packed with miserable scenarios of poverty, violence and drugs, and all the painful realities that are neglected in order to feed the wealth of the highest Russian patents. Yes, lamentably in some shabby countries, honesty and integrity are mistaken for foolishness.

March 26, 2015

Beautiful Youth (2014)

Beautiful Youth (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: jaime Rosales
Country: Spain / others

Movie Review: “Beautiful Youth” is disappointing, even considering the strong theme about the demoralizing social reality lived in Spain, where unemployment loomed a couple years ago, hampering the youths from building decent lives and leaving no margin for dreams or high hopes. The film, set in Madrid, starts particularly unfocused. There’s a worried mother and their three sons – Natalia, who occasionally steals from stores' beauty sections and decided to have an experience on amateur porn with her boyfriend Carlos (only to win 300 euros); Pedro who’s not doing great in his studies and says ‘I’m fucking sick of this woman’ when talks about his mom; and the little one, Irene who still need extra cares. The father left the house some years ago and only Natalia maintains contact with him. After a while, it becomes clear that Natalia and Carlos, both 20, are the ones to follow in this pessimistic adventure, which was no more than a potentially acceptable idea turned into an unskilled exercise. Natalia gets pregnant and starts looking for a job, however, her wish never materializes. In turn, Carlos, underpaid in occasional construction jobs, plunges into inertia and seems only concerned with video games and obtaining financial compensation from having been stabbed in the neck during a brawl. The whole is weaker than some parts, resulting in an uneven tale that was never really connected. By the end of the film there are some questionable options (photographs, skype) that first mislead us, and then take us to the infuriating conclusion. Filmmaker Jaime Rosales doesn’t seem to be the same who elegantly directed the sensational art-house “Dream and Silence” in 2012. Everything collapsed in “Beautiful Youth” - the camera moves awkwardly and tactless, the photography is unattractive, and the editing, a flop. Budget's fault? Blah!

March 25, 2015

Breathe (2014)

Breathe (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Mélanie Laurent
Country: France

Movie Review: As a psychological coming-of-age drama, “Breathe”, the second feature from actress turned director, Mélanie Laurent, doesn’t let us down. Laurent shared the writing credits with another French actor, Julien Lambroschini, basing herself on the bestselling novel of the same name by Anne Sophie-Brasme. The film is a refreshing tale of poisoned friendship between two teenage girls, depicted with solid emotional contours, but somehow penalizing the whole with a finale that seemed too brusque and easy for me. Josephine Japy plays the 17-year-old Charlene aka Charlie, who finds solace in the company of her loyal group of school friends since at home she’s restless due to their parents’ bitter relationship. When the seductive and easy talker, Sarah, impeccably performed by Lou de Laage, arrives for the first time, Charlie seemed conquered by her apparent freedom and self-assured posture. While Charlie willingly shares her most inner secrets with Sarah, the latter will do exactly the opposite, concealing aspects of her private life that are anything but cheerful or motivating. Can this life be an excuse for Sarah’s intolerable behavior toward Charlie? Her game consisted, basically, of manipulative moves, taking whatever she wants, and then unthankfully moving away again, avoiding and despising who helped her. This contemptuous falsity was successfully depicted, drawing an inevitable irritation that makes us take the side of Charlie when tragedy occurs. An oppressive suffocation (valid for both characters) can be distinctly felt throughout the film – the continual attempts to understanding what’s going on, emotional shakiness, an asthma crisis, an urgent open of a window, or a terrifying conclusion – all of them require a deep breathe.

March 24, 2015

Big Muddy (2014)

Big Muddy (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Jefferson Moneo
Country: Canada

Movie Review: Debutant director Jefferson Moneo falls short in his inglorious attempt to turn “Big Muddy” (based on his 2011 short film) into a memorable neo-noir thriller with glimpses of western. Amid the many reasons that contributed to its non-accomplishment, we can point as the most determinant: an overfamiliar plot that was also disjointed, inexpressively dry characters, and a dismal approach. Probing a troubled family with a lot to clear up, both in the past and present, the film opens with an ireful man shooting two cops in the woods after escaping prison. Donovan is the fugitive, and his most probable next move is to look for Martha Barlow, the mother of his teenage son, Andy. The misunderstood Martha is a horse connoisseur turned outlaw, being involved in a series of violent robberies perpetrated in the company of her immature, jealous boyfriend, Tommy. Evidently, she’s not an example to be followed by Andy, who will confirm a sort of bad seed cursing the family; beyond stealing money from his mother, he shows no remorse when pulling the trigger on Buck Corber, Martha’s dodger former lover. The latter had already finished Tommy off, after having been hoodwinked by him in the most ludicrous scene of the film. Martha sees no other possibility beyond fleeing to Big Muddy and ask her estranged father for shelter. The confused Andy is the one who doesn’t know exactly what to do when he finds himself between a father who wants his family back and a grandfather who wants to teach him how hard is being a farmer. The title Big Muddle would have fit better, and not even the shootout scenes put away our enervation. Leaving much to be explained, especially concerning the characters’ past, Mr. Moneo’s writing would benefit if more definite and diligent toward a tight storytelling.

March 23, 2015

The Amazing Catfish (2014)

The Amazing Catfish (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Claudia Sainte-Luce
Country: Mexico / France

Movie Review: “The Amazing Catfish” is a Mexican drama that revolves around Claudia (Ximena Ayala), an unenthusiastic supermarket employee who was literally adopted by the HIV-positive Martha (Luisa Owen), after they've shared the same hospital room. Claudia was subjected to surgery after she was diagnosed with appendicitis while the moribund Martha is a dedicated mother of three daughters and a son, who was infected by the father of her two younger children. In their own way, each child is in need of attention – Ale, the oldest, is deeply affected by a breakup; Wendy seems lively and self-assured in her decisions but hides some worrying details of her life; the two youngest, Armando and Mariana, are frightened and disoriented with the situation of their mother. Claudia plays a central role within this family; the family she never had. More heartwarming than conspicuous, the film suffers from occasional relaxation, and its intentions of being seen as more natural as possible, sometimes fall in repetitive situations that don’t add much to the story. The characters could, and should, be better developed, but instead, the debutant filmmaker Claudia Sainte-Luce seemed more concerned about showing us bee stings, mosquito bites or jellyfish burns, besides Armando’s catfish swimming in a bowl of water. She tries to counterbalance the heaviness and sadness of the central story, creating situations that are both positive and encouraging – a vacation trip to the beach, friendly conversations, little moments of joy, a comforting shoulder when one has to cry. All this is justifiable but, even though, the film worked emotionally intermittent for me, ending as a personal letter that missed my essence’s address.

March 22, 2015

Spring (2014)

Spring (2014) - Movie Review
Directed: Justin Benson, Aaron Moorhead
Country: USA

Movie Review: With only two feature films in their careers (not counting with the segments for the pathetic “V/H/S: Viral”), fellow filmmakers, Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead, have been conquering a legion of fans, and are now considered trendy representatives of the independent filmmaking. In their first film, “Resolution”, I didn’t get convinced of their capabilities since what it was supposed to be a horror film, became an unaesthetic, somehow pretentious adventure where everything seemed purposely created to baffle and supported on incoherence. With the conceptually bolder “Spring”, a modernistic romance horror sci-fi, which is mostly, if not entirely shot with handheld camera, I’m a bit more convinced, even believing that the film would have benefitted if had spent more time around the eeriness than in a romance that never showed many motives for us to care about it. The story follows Evan (Lou Taylor Pucci), a Californian cook who gets in trouble after the death of his mother (amazing opening scene), fleeing to a small village on the Italian coast where he meets the love of his life, Louise (Nadia Hilker). This lovable femme fatale is a researcher scientist whose availability is far from being regular. Getting too close and growing too fond of Evan, her dark secret will be exposed to him in a hideous manner. As an ancient creature, she confesses this is the first time she’s in love with somebody (naivety), but that love is menaced by increasingly dangerous transformations that turn her into a repulsive killing beast (a mix of alien and werewolf with scorpion tail). The dialogues might be baloney at times and the pace somewhat uneven, but “Spring” managed to properly engage with its sweetly bizarre facet and a few powerful scenes.

March 21, 2015

Backcountry (2014)

Backcountry (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Adam MacDonald
Country: Canada

Movie Review: Adam MacDonald’s directorial debut feature is a credible, tense indie thriller, based on true events, that realistically explores the misadventures of a passionate urban couple in the Canadian wilderness. Alex (Jeff Roop) and Jenn (Missy Peregrym) agree to go on a relaxing weekend trip into the nature, spending some well deserved time together, surrounded by sky, trees, and waterfalls. Convinced he knows pretty well where he was going, and planning on proposing to her, Alex lost the track for his route. Horrified, the couple finds themselves lost in the territory of a threatening black bear, without a map or cell phone. Even before that, Mr. MacDonald tries to distract us with the appearance of a suspicious stranger whose talk and behavior caused some uneasiness. In a first stage, the film relies on common strategies, playing with disturbing noises where the silence reigns, and tenuous lights upon the darkness. These preparations last almost an hour, with Jenn’s facial expression suggesting she was premeditating something harmful, especially whenever they had to opt for a direction. When the bear effectively attacks, we are shaken by the powerful, shocking images that convey a genuine sensation of terror. Alex, completely disfigured, ends up being meat dish for the avid bear, while Jenn is abandoned to her own luck, trying to follow her surviving instincts. “Backcountry” doesn’t really break new ground, however, its story is solidly built to a crescendo, what is another point in favor. It’s as if we wanted the story to come to an end, finishing with the agony, and at the same time keep on watching more. The score by Fréres Lumiéres was adequate for each situation while cinematographer Christian Bielz did a nice job.

March 20, 2015

The Dark Horse (2014)

The Dark Horse (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: James Napier Robertson
Country: New Zealand

Movie Review: Imagine a blend of “Shine”, “The Chess Players” and “Once Were Warriors”, and you’ll have “The Dark Horse”. Director James Napier Robertson, based himself on the true story of Genesis Potini, a former speed chess champion of Maori descent who, as a part of his therapy for bipolar disorder, focuses on teaching kids with a high risk of being recruited by the lawless local gangs. The story takes place in Gisborne, Genesis’ hometown, where the chess club entitled The Eastern Knights hosts a bunch of smart kids showing a huge eagerness to participate in a tough championship in Oakland. The man behind this unthinkable idea was the feverish Genesis who, under the effect of pills and in the midst of his litanies of excitement and awe, faces the suspicious parents, including his own brother whose son, Mana, reveals great skills and interest in the game, but is about to be initialized in his father’s gang through a traumatic ritual. With a predilection for backlit photography, Robertson presents us two distinct sides: a sweet one, carrying noble intentions and positive attitudes; and a dark one, where a tough social reality is toxic enough to be vehemently condemned. There’s a strong sequence of images that confronts the two opposite realities: while Mana gets visibly disturbed with the violence of the ritual and is forced to cope with it, the other youths give wings to artistic creativity on the streets in order to raise money for the trip. Cliff Curtis, in his most notable performance to date, was brilliant as Genesis, an exemplary man that despite the illness, never ceased to believe in his dream. “The Dark Horse” isn't emotionally perfect, yet its positive message stays with us.

March 19, 2015

Cinderella (2015)

Cinderella (2015) - Movie Review
Directed by: Kenneth Branagh
Country: USA

Movie Review: Competent film director, Kenneth Branagh, launched a contemporary version of Disney’s classic fairy-tale, “Cinderella”, which may not reunite consensus among enthusiasts of celebrated romantic fantasies. Despite  some new details added to the plot, the ‘song’ remains the same in its essence. Chris Weitz (“About a Boy”, “The Golden Compass”) was in charge of the screenplay, and therefore, the sweetness patent in the film doesn’t really surprise me. Branagh missed the opportunity to explore a bit more the maleficent stepmother, but in return there’s an explicit sense of purity, kindness, and forgiveness in Cinderella. It’s as if the story had put the bad aside to fixate itself in the perspective of the good. Instead of crying and sobbing while locked in her cold room, the confident Cinderella sings, with her beloved prince in mind, never losing hope in a better future. We can say the thrills are gone, but that fact made room for a stronger personality of the title character. Funny moments are not abundant, but we can find them occasionally, here and there. As for the romance, there’s some magic on several occasions. Lily James transpired candor as Cinderella, floating in her blue dress (costume design by Sandy Powell was commendable) and glass slippers, but it was the splendorous Cate Blanchett as the cruel stepmother who stole the show with an imposing performance of pure class. It’s a pity that Helen Bonham Carter has been so modest in her brief appearance as the Fairy Godmother. Overall, “Cinderella” is far from greatness but managed to entertain, exhibiting structural solidity and rich visuals illustrated with a range of resplendent colors.

March 18, 2015

Cub (2014)

Cub (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Jonas Govaerts
Country: Belgium

Movie Review: The first scene of the Belgian horror flick, “Cub”, shows a woman in the woods frantically running from a devilish creature that eventually ends up grabbing her by the neck. After stir our curiosity with this premise, “Cub”, directed and co-written by the newcomer Jonas Govaerts, falls in a spiral of brutal scenes where graphical violence is remorselessly spewed at the sound of tense sonorities. Taking into account its genre, this could have been positive if the plot itself along with most of its characters weren't so coarse. Sam, an unquiet 12-year-old kid, spends a weekend in the woods, joining his group of Cub Scouts leaded by three inappreciable adults: the reasonable Chris, the self-indulgent Jasmijn, and the unbalanced bully, Peter. They spread the rumor that a half-human half-beast creature inhabits the forest, being responsible for numerous deaths that led to the closure of an old factory nearby. What was taken as a joke by the rest of the campers, was confirmed by the bullied Sam. He effectively sees this werewolf of the forest, named Kai, and creates a heinous bond with him. Their first victim was Peter’s pit-bull - put into a bag, left hanging from a tree and beaten up to death with sticks. As the story moves forward, we are taken to Kai’s father, a huntsman that takes pleasure in setting up ingenious traps in the woods, causing the death to his passing victims in a variety of atrocious ways. What could have been nice surprises, ended up being disclosed at an early stage, and the film is turned into a contrived mess where we can’t find anything particularly satisfying after digging into it. It’s all depicted with a stirring madness, but ultimately, “Cub” becomes corrupted by its own naivety and inconsistencies.

March 17, 2015

The Taking of Tiger Mountain (2014)

The Taking of Tiger Mountain (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Tsui Hark
Country: China

Movie Review: Vietnamese-born director, Tsui Hark, is already a reference when it comes to spectacular Asian flicks that combine adventure, fantasy, and action. In his latest, the 3D “The Taking of Tiger Mountain”, he based himself on Qu Bo’s novel ‘Tracks in the Snowy Forest’, focusing on a particular episode of the communist Chinese revolution, and bringing in, both real and fictional characters. Thoroughly mounted and sharply shot, the film is another colorful adventure, but this time lacking the fantasy, splendor and mystery of “Detective Dee”. And how I missed these aspects! On the one hand we can call it minimally entertaining, taking into account some curious characters that include soldiers, spies, bandits, and assassins; on the other hand, its violent scenes are too detailed and set up with a clangorous ostentation (a tiger attack was the most ridiculous of them), gradually becoming more tiresome than substantial. Another aspect that deserves a bit more attention from Mr.Hark is the duration of his movies – almost two hours and a half for a movie with this visual intensity is too much, and only works for masterpieces such as the first Lord of the Rings trilogy. Sentimentality also dwells here, designed by the presence of Knoti, a scared, famished little boy who thought to have lost his mother. With all its faults, I have to admit that one of the most freakish villains of the contemporary Chinese cinema can be found here. Actually, Lord Hawk, terrifically impersonated by Tony Leung Ka-fai, was a spectacle for the eyes, coming instantly to my mind when I try to figure out something positive. “The Taking of Tiger Mountain” is a razzle-dazzle that probably would give a good comic book. Usually, it’s the other way around.

March 16, 2015

The Wonders (2014)

The Wonders (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Alice Rohrwacher
Country: Italy / others

Movie Review: Alice Rohrwacher is an emergent Italian filmmaker whose impressive talent could be proven in her debut “Corpo Celeste”. In her second feature-length, “The Wonders”, she keeps involving us with her powerful filmmaking, vigorously pushing us into a story that conveys as much beauty as sadness, in its own melancholic yet observant way. The characters are intriguing; it seems that there’s always something to be discovered in them. This sense of unpredictability is present throughout all the film, functioning as a secret formula to keep us pursuing a story that takes the time to evolve. With an attentive social awareness, “The Wonders” is centered on teenager Gelsomina who lives in a rural region with her parents and three younger sisters. Their house seems not to gather the best conditions to be living in but has a neat honey laboratory that mainly guarantees their livelihood. Being a real expert with bees, Gelsomina is indispensable to her father, Wolfgang, a traditional beekeeper whose stubbornness and strictness is followed by limited ambitions. Since he lacks responsibility and is a big spender, indulging himself into certain eccentricities like buying a camel to reward his daughter’s work, the family has sunk in debt. A unique opportunity to overcome the situation arises when they are invited to participate in a TV show contest for farmers called ‘The Land of Wonders’. Gelsomina, despite stuck in her family life, will also reveal an admirable maturity when deal with an emotionally insecure friend of the family, Cocó, and a quiet troubled teen, Martin, who arrived to help her father. The uncanny finale proves that this family doesn’t break, even in the worst situations. Slightly less riveting than “Corpo Celeste”, “The Wonders”, overall is a palpable, rich drama.

March 14, 2015

Chappie (2015)

Chappie (2015) - Movie Review
Directed by: Neill Blomkamp
Country: USA / Mexico

Movie Review: Neill Blomkamp picks out once again his Johannesburg, South Africa, to be the stage of his third feature, “Chappie”, in which he sticks to the habitual sci-fi genre packed with violent action. The film, just like its title character, feels mechanical on most occasions, and the script throws some sentimental bait in an attempt to catch emotional viewers. It’s impossible to completely dissociate “Chappie” from Blomkamp’s two previous flicks - “District 9” (also co-written with Terri Tatchell) and “Elysium”, whose creativity I admire - and even resemblances with “Robocop” are a reality. But the sad truth is that “Chappie” is disappointing, not only when we compare all of them, but also when we analyze it by itself. Its adventure is a mishmash where robots, gangsters, and creators of robots fight one another in quasi-apocalyptic scenarios painted with chaotic gunfights, flashy blasts, and furious blazes. The intense score is incessant and tries to set the mood according to the various discrepant situations, going from sweet and mellow to hyper-aggressive. The script was quite dull, especially on the part that Chappie, the robot conceived to join the South African police forces in the combat of rampant street criminality, starts to learn like a child, not the good things that its creator, Deon, is trying to patiently introduce to him, but rather all the insolences coming from the gangsters who stole him. There are so many ideas on the table, but the problem is to orient them in the proper direction. “Chappie” is not the worst of the sci-fi’s, but it’s basic at its core, and we sadly realize that artificial intelligence becomes superficial intelligence, and the robots seem metallic aberrations whose behaviors are rather phony than genuinely implacable.

March 13, 2015

The Overnighters (2014)

The Overnighters (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Jesse Moss
Country: USA

Movie Review: “The Overnighters” is a pertinent documentary that painfully observes the incidents occurred in Willistone, North Dakota, during the booming oil industry, which attracted a large number of people looking for a job, just to realize on site that basic needs such as housing was a mirage. Pastor Jay Reinke is the man that tries to ease the situation for this desperate flock in search of a better life, sheltering most of them in the parking lot of the Concordia Lutheran Church, for which he is responsible. What should have been a temporary measure, soon is extended for several months and then years, provoking the discontentment of the population that felt invaded and became fearful of the rampant increase of violent crimes and drug trafficking. We are introduced to some of the problematic men who arrived; some of them are former sexual offenders, major or minor crooks, or just simple workers whose hope is to give better conditions to their families. The 57-year-old pastor is seen as a compassionate angel, listening to everyone’s concerns and afflictions, and trying to give them the support they need to continue their dreams. Particular little dreams that, all together, widen the film's coverage to a frustrating, illusional ‘American Dream’. For the end, the pastor’s noble struggle collapses and the docudrama unfolds to something deeper, even disquieting about the man who deserved praise for the tireless work done in favor of people, especially the discriminated ones. Documentarian Jesse Moss, who visually was nothing brilliant, punches our faces with the final confessions and revelations, remembering us that there is no such thing as an infallible man. Luck or not, he nailed it.

March 12, 2015

Warsaw 44 (2014)

Warsaw 44 (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Jan Komasa
Country: Poland

Movie Review: Love and hate are expressed in so many different ways in “Warsaw 44”, the latest narrative feature from Polish filmmaker Jan Komasa (“Suicide Room”). This war drama, set in occupied Poland, is just another story about the Resistance facing Nazi oppressors, failing to add anything relevant to the theme when compared with other recent holocaust pieces of the same country like “In Darkness”, “Ida”, or the not so successful but acceptable “Aftermath”. To tell the truth, Komasa seemed just interested in present us with a festival of explosions, agony, death, and gutted people on the verge of madness. It’s also a love story shattered by the cruelty of war, but lightly handled and unconvincing in its cynical posture. Along its exhaustive 130 minutes, we follow Jasio, a young man who takes care of his depressive mother (a renowned actress) and sensitive little brother, after his father has been carried off by war. Despite having promised to his mother that he would stay out of trouble, Jasio swears loyalty to the Fatherland and joins a group of friends in the fierce battle to retrieve the already devastated city. Prone to be a hero, the courageous Jasio will face the horrors of war and witness his family being killed, shot in the head. Hopeless, wound and apathetic, can the power of love still save him? “Warsaw 44” is not completely balanced in its approach, toggling between festive companionships and heroic acts in its first two parts, just to enter in 'gruesome mode' in the last third. While some chaotic scenes seemed too orderly put together to be real, others touch the grotesque – how about human flesh and blood falling from the skies after a bomb burst? In a saturated genre, the film relies too much on the graphical side to impress. Mr. Komasa should know this is not enough.

March 11, 2015

Focus (2015)

Focus (2015) - Movie Review
Directed by: Glenn Ficarra, John Requa
Country: USA

Movie Review: Glenn Ficarra and John Requa (“I Love You Philip Morris”, “Crazy Stupid Love”) join efforts once again on writing and direction, and the result was “Focus”, top box-office until early this week, when it was overthrown by the artificial intelligence of “Chappie”. Despite its popularity among the masses, “Focus” lacks artistry on every single front. The film tries to play with the ‘prohibited’ love story between a master con man, Nicky Spurgeon (Will Smith) and his seductive apprentice, Jess Barrett (Margot Robbie), as they focus on potential targets. Operating in New Orleans, where they defalcate an inveterate sports gambler named Liyuan (B.D. Wong), the couple inevitably splits up due to professional-ethical reasons, only to see each other again three years later in Buenos Aires. There, they will recommence the relationship and take advantage of the owner of a motor sports team who hires Nicky to corrupt a decisive race. Stiff, unimaginative, and devoid of thrills or fun, this silly creation does everything to trick us with its clichés, but the best it can do is bore us to death. The film’s sluggish narrative never attained an acceptable flow, and the script shows practically no twists to justify its viewing. Everything was set with a miserable sense of objectivity, deficient intensity put on the scenes, and mediocre performances, particularly by Will Smith whose character not only for once generated any sort of empathy. This poor piece of screenwriting by Ficarra and Requa (I even liked their “Bad Santa”!), feels amateurish and uneventful, making “Focus” totally out of focus. With one of the dullest of the year, are you willing to be conned?

March 10, 2015

Tokyo Tribe (2014)

Tokyo Tribe (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Shion Sono
Country: Japan

Movie Review: Shion Sono’s latest, blends street gang action with hip-hop musical, and the effect is no less than effervescent. Based on Santa Inoue’s manga series of the same title, “Tokyo Tribe” opens with a kid on top of a slum’s barrack in Bukuro, saying to another: ‘when I grow up I’ll bring hope and joy to this city’. As you can imagine, the words hope and joy hardly fit here, and not even a minute later, we can witness the decadent reality of these colorful streets – drug trafficking, prostitution, crime, violence, and police negligence. We are introduced to the numerous rival gangs (called tribes) that control the different areas of Tokyo at the sound of rap tunes. From all the 23 existent gangs, Wu-Ronz and Musashino Saru got more attention. Wu Ronz’s bosses, the cannibal assassins and sex exploiters, Lord Buppa and his son Nkoi who uses sculptural women as his furniture, together with the savage expert in blades, Mera, are planning to destroy the remaining tribes and take total control of the city. After Musashino Saru’s leader has been killed, is Kai, Mera’s mortal foe, who will assume the leadership of his gang and try to unite the tribes for a bloody street battle without precedent. Among the large number of characters, some are memorable: sexy kung-fu fighter Erika, filthy grotesque Lord Buppa, and the ultra-brutal corpulent warrior who are constantly asking for sauna. “Tokyo Tribe” it’s pure fun from start to finish, a hive of lust, power and crime, depicted with a furious hilarity that I would never think possible in Sono. The songs are great, the digital treatment of the images is perfect, and the camera gets as wild as the gang members. Flashy, funny, insolent and vicious… this is Sono at his best.

March 09, 2015

Serena (2014)

Serena (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Susanne Bier
Country: USA / others

Movie Review: Susanne Bier is a Danish filmmaker who counts with some auspicious dramas of great intensity in her career, such as “Open Hearts”, “Brothers”, “After the Wedding” and the Oscar winner “In a Better World”. Her latest feature, “Serena”, starring Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence (the same pair of actors who did a brilliant job in “Silver Linings Playbook”), is her second Hollywood experience after “The Things We Lost in the Fire”. If “Love is All You Need” from three years ago, a cheesy romance with Pierce Brosnan and Trine Dyrholm, was a huge disappointment, “Serena”, despite slightly more interesting, still doesn’t give us enough for a film that tries to excel in such a demanding genres such as drama and thriller. The film was based on Ron Rash’s 2008 novel of the same name, illustrating the tragic story of George Pemberton (Cooper) whose timber empire keeps thriving. When he first sees Serena (Lawrence) in Boston, it was love at first sight. The couple got married right away, moving to George’s little town in North Carolina. Their life was running smoothly but suddenly becomes a nightmare after Serena, until then a confident wife and business partner, has had a miscarriage. The situation is aggravated by the fact that Mr. Pemberton already has a son with Rachel (Ana Ularu), a modest local woman, as well as by the presence of Galloway (Rhys Ifans), a strange ex-con henchman whose visions seem darkly connected to Serena. Christopher Kyle’s screenplay was unfaithful to the book, skipping some major details and the film was embroiled in complacent tones until the overcooked final part, when unsuccessfully tries to stir some excitement from the dramatic increase in pace. I couldn’t find anything really memorable in this depressive sort of western, beyond the unmitigated performance by Jennifer Lawrence.

March 08, 2015

Faults (2014)

Faults (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Riley Stearns
Country: USA

Movie Review: Under the direction of debutant writer/director Riley Stearns, “Faults” falls in the particular category of thrillers about cult groups, the same that incorporates “Martha Marcy May Marlene”, “Sound of My Voice” and on a completely different level, the brilliant “The Master”. Mr. Stearns shows to be resourceful in a handful of shots while maintains a positive narrative stability among compelling drama, unfathomable mystery, and dark humor. The film opens with Dr. Ansel Roth (Leland Orser) eating in a hotel restaurant and trying to pay the bill with a voucher already used. A situation that doesn’t embarrass the moody Ansel, an advocate of free will with a polemic past, who was preparing himself for another presentation about 'lost people under the control of others', materialized in his new book entitled ‘Follower’. Coming off a broken marriage, and losing credibility in his theories and methods (some guy in the audience even beat him up), Ansel’s future seems not very encouraging, fact aggravated when his former manager, Terry (Jon Gries), gives him an ultimatum to pay off a huge debt. His chance to get away with this last situation comes when a couple asks for his help with their daughter, Claire (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), who avoids contact with family and friends after joining a cult group called ‘Faults’. Ansel’s solution: kidnap Claire and submit her to a 5-day program to clean her mind, paying the debt with the income for his services. The Q&A that comes next gives us a clearer picture of the cult but can’t explain the mysterious occurrences they are experiencing. It's all about assuming control. The same control brought into play by Leland Orser, here resembling Dustin Hoffman, and turning him into the heart of the film.

March 07, 2015

Stratos (2014)

Stratos (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: Yannis Economides
Country: Greece / others

Movie Review: “Stratos”, best film at Thessaloniki film festival, is a solid crime thriller whose title is the name of its main character, a solitary man who served years in prison after he has murdered the men who messed with his girl. While in jail, he became the protégé of the feared inmate, Leonidas, a former mafia leader who saved his life. Now enjoying freedom again, Stratos operates secretively as a hitman for someone close to Leonidas during the daytime while at night he works in a baking factory to maintain the appearances. Despite being warned in relation to Leonidas’ brother, Yorgos, he ends up deceived while continues to finance a risky plan for digging a subterranean tunnel that was supposed to take Leonidas out of the prison. In a parallel front, Stratos will try everything to prevent a little neighbor girl from falling into the hands of the new mafia shark, Petropoulos, as a form of paying a debt owed by her negligent parents, Vicky and Maki. Petropoulos and his haughty wife also keep trying to persuade Stratos to join their dirty clan. This bleak portrait of a cold assassin is earnest and implacable, raising a moral issue that disappears during the final act when the killer opts for a righteous move. Respectful filmmaker Yannis Economides creates a remorseless character whose sense of doom becomes strongly outlined from the time he decided to do something right in his miserable life. Notable actor Vangelis Mourikis was the perfect vehicle for his intentions, in their third collaboration after “Soul Kicking” and “Knifer”. Clearly influenced by film noir dramas, the well-balanced “Stratos” holds onto a mood that is closer to Mellville’s “Le Samourai” than Corbijn’s “The American”.

March 06, 2015

Jupiter Ascending (2015)

Jupiter Ascending (2015) - Movie Review
Directed by: Andy and Lana Wachowski
Country: USA

Movie Review: Another action sci-fi adventure from the creators of “Matrix”, Lana and Andy Wachowski, was recently released but, unfortunately, the result is too feeble to recommend. Characterization and production design stood out as the strongest aspects of “Jupiter Ascending”, a film that very early made me lose the interest in its super-stuffed plot and confusing battles. Mila Kunis and Channing Tatum star in a distant future, respectively as Jupiter Jones and Craig Wise. She leads a very boring life, cleaning houses for wealthy people, but soon realizes that her fate is to save the universe from evil hands, and consequently her life is at stake. He is an ex-soldier who will do whatever he can to protect her during the mission. The ones to be defeated belong to the Abrasax family; voracious brothers Titus and Balem, who fight for reigning after the death of their queen mother. You can find a panoply of flamboyant stuff in “Jupiter Ascending” – flying boots, explosions filling up the screen, colorful rays crossing the menacing skies, huge fancy spaceships, even talkative Godzillas with wings among other ridiculous creatures – but unfortunately these aspects weren’t enough to make it a better film. It’s pretty evident to me that the Wachowskis are going through a creative crisis, and I’m not referring to particular details but as a film in its whole, consecutively abdicating of smarter plots and memorable approaches in order to satisfy the easy consumerism of the genre they love most. I made an effort to like this but end up missing “Matrix” more, or “V for Vendetta” whose screenplay they wrote. Opposing to Jupiter, the Wachowkis’ career is descending at the speed of light. Therefore, urgent measures are now needed to save their universes.

March 05, 2015

The Better Angels (2014)

The Better Angels (2014) - Movie Review
Directed by: A.J. Edwards
Country: USA

Movie Review: Working lately as a film editor for filmmaker Terence Mallick (“To the Wonder” and the upcoming “Knight of Cups”), who pays back here in production, A.J. Edwards makes his directorial debut with “The Better Angels”, a reflexive, historical biography about the early years of the former American president, Abraham Lincoln. The film opens with Lincoln’s sentence: ‘All I am, or hope to be, I owe to my angel mother’. From this quite suggestive introduction, we’re transported to 1817 Indiana, where the young Abe (debutant Braydon Denney) tries to help his stern father, Thomas (Jason Clarke), taking care of the crops. Food was not abundant and the few inhabitants were dying from sudden sickness. The good times were spent in the company of his older brother and his beloved mother, Nancy (Brit Marling), a believer and a dreamer, according to his own words. After the latter’s death, his misunderstood father brought another wife, the widow Sarah (Diane Kruger), to their home, and with her came the love and care the children needed to better endure their hard lives. The film, narrated by the protagonist, starts moderately unsettling, but insists on remaining in a dreamy indolence that runs out our patience sooner than expected. Edwards indulges himself in a sort of lyricism, which with the time, becomes exasperating. The celestial tones and slow-paced narrative, so characteristic of Mallick’s work, are quite visible, but the film becomes more stylized than absorbing and more languid than exciting. Besides the dignified visuals, with the black-and-white as an understandable choice, “The Better Angels” offers little motives to be cherished.